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New suburban lifestyle needs new ways of getting around

Walkers move about the pedestrian-friendly Mosaic District in Fairfax County. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Transportation in the 21st century is going to be about more than the infrastructure of roads, buses, rail cars, trails and bike stations. It’s also going to be about attitude.

So I was pleased to meet a couple of people working on a private transportation program in Fairfax County who have the attitude that’s going to support modern travel and modern communities.

The program is called the Mosaic Green Commute, which helps residents, employees and visitors in the young and growing Mosaic District make choices about the best ways to get around.

We’re talking about a suburb that many people don’t yet associate with the urbanista center of the D.C. region. And we’re talking about a private program, though one that got a boost from the county government’s approach to community planning.

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Planners refer to what Green Commute does as Transportation Demand Management, or TDM. The term doesn’t capture the spirit of what’s going on with the Mosaic District’s transformation from an older, car-oriented suburb to a community of shops, restaurants, offices and residences with a flexible travel network.

It’s still easy to drive and park. And another key feature of the transportation setup is that Mosaic is near the Orange Line’s Dunn Loring station.

But here’s the Green Commute idea: “Lots of people are either driving or taking Metro, with nothing in between. Explore!”

That’s Lydia Shackelford, senior TDM communication specialist at Wells + Associates, who works with the Green Commute program as a “transportation concierge.” Her message is directed at the people who live in or work in or visit the neighborhood.

Green Commute helps them create their own travel plans based on their needs and their lifestyle. On its website,, the program describes itself as "Your personal transportation guru."

This is more than just handing a welcome brochure to a newcomer and saying you can take this shuttle bus to Metro, or the Zipcar parking is here and the bike parking is there, or we’ve got this electronic TransitScreen where you can get updates on all sorts of travel options.

The program managers need to know who they’re talking to.

“Plenty of people are going to stay handcuffed to their steering wheel,” Shackelford said. “That’s okay. But we need to find out what’s behind that and offer options.”

Brochures are easy. Getting to know people’s travel concerns is hard.

“It’s about finding out what makes people tick, understanding them on a personal level,” she said.

Shackelford and her colleague at Green Commute, Christina Alire of the EDENS development and management organization, recently accepted an award for the program from the Chesapeake Chapter of the Association for Commuter Transportation.

In describing the program, the association said: “Mosaic Green Commute is . . . about creating a live, work, play culture, which promotes a lifestyle focused on engaging in the Mosaic community.”

Alire said that helping people discover new travel options is not only satisfying but also good business.

First of all, the developers of the high-density neighborhood were required to work out a Transportation Demand Management program with the county. This includes an annual survey of residents, employees and hotel guests to understand how they travel, and then to reduce the number of vehicular trips.

Beyond the obligation, helping people discover more travel options and thereby easing congestion makes the neighborhood more attractive.

“You don’t have to see it as a burden, but as something that will bring in tenants and businesses for you,” Shackelford said.

And in bringing in those new tenants and businesses, Alire said, “You don’t want to be limited by the amount of available parking.”

They say Green Commute is exceeding its goals for trip reduction. But if they do this right, it will never get easy. New people with different needs move in. And sometimes, the transportation system changes. Some who found the area attractive because of its proximity to the Orange Line station didn’t know the SafeTrack maintenance disruptions were coming.

“It’s a fluid, continually evolving program,” Shackelford said. “We’re talking to commuters every day.”

Shackelford and Alire want to change people’s behavior, but Green Commute isn’t about car-shaming.

“Make it about the person and not about the mode,” Shackelford said.

Yes, she said, “It’s important to get people off roads. Not just for the environment. There’s going to be more people. They’re going to have to get around somehow.”

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or ­email